Saturday Road Test Toyota RAV4

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Toyota RAV4

A Big Hit in the Market

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD. – It was a little over 20 years ago that the Toyota RAV4 hit the market and my guess is even its more fervent backers didn’t realize what a hit it would be. In January it was the nation’s 10th best-selling vehicle and Toyota’s third top seller for lots of good reasons.

Here is what I liked most about the RAV. From the get go it was easy to perform the simple tasks that customized the vehicle to the operator – seats, audio, trip mileage, heat, outside mirrors and a few other items.

All this might not sound like a big deal, but it can be maddening when one has to constantly refer to manuals and/or screen menus to perform basic early tasks. That said Toyota’s Entune smartphone-entertainment system has been criticized for its complex set up procedures.

One minor/major matter was the placement of a cup holder on the center console right where your arm and hand would reach for a beverage while driving. Another nice touch was the storage shelf above the glove box, ala the much loved Honda Element.

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The driver faces a Multi Information Display that has lots of multis – average fuel economy, instant fuel economy (although I can never figure out what benefit that is to anyone), distance to empty, selected gear, and warnings for low fuel, battery, tire pressure monitoring system, well you get the idea. A button on the right hand spoke of the steering wheel toggles through the various screens. Other buttons are linked to the audio system, Bluetooth and audio streaming.

But the buttons for engaging the all-wheel drive and the remote hatch opener are buried to the lower left of the wheel on the dash and impossible to engage in a casual glance.

The power lift gate was a nice touch and is now an option on the next rung down XLE model. Cargo capacity is 38.4 cubic feet with the second row seats in the up position and 73.4 cubic feet when folded.

With the demise of the six, there is only one engine choice. It is a 2.5-liter direct injection four with 176 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 172 lb-ft of torque @ 4,100 rpm. While adequate to meet the demands of the typical crossover buyer a little more power would help merging onto interstates and for rural road passing maneuvers. The 6 speed automatic is well matched to the tasks at hand. Our all-wheel drive tester was rated at 22-29 mpg on regular grade unleaded.

Operators can choose a Sport mode that sharpens shift timing, throttle response and can blip the throttle on downshifts. On the AWD models, it will alter torque distribution. But the engagement button is located very low on the center stack and pulls too much of the driver’s attention off the road to find it.

There is also an Eco mode for frugal fuel shoppers. (Say that ten times fast.)

The MacPherson strut front suspension and double-wishbone rear suspension results in a slightly stiff ride. On the interstate there was some wind and road noise in the cabin, but not to excess. It was noteworthy that the RAV held the line on several drives when challenged by strong cross current wind gusts. The test Limited rolled on 18 inch alloy wheels with all season P235/55R all-season tires. Other models with smaller wheels might produce a slightly softer ride.

While I do not believe many people will go off-roading in their RAV pushing the AWD Lock button fixes torque distribution at 50:50 at speeds up to about 25 mph to maximize grip. This might come in handy in this winter of our discontent along with 6.3 inches of ground clearance.

There are three trim levels, LE, XLE and Limited. The top of the line brings breathable SofTex trimmed heated seats with power adjustment on the driver’s side that was quite comfortable. An optional $725 Technology Package includes Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Alert and Auto High Beam.

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Some very nice sounds came from the Premium JBL Auto System that pumps out 576 watts wired to 11 speakers. Also in that $725 package were a 6.1 inch high resolution touch screen, all the usual smartphone and audio choices and connections, and traffic and weather information among other goodies.

Floor mats, a cargo net and a roof rack brought the MSRP of the test RAV to $32,679 with delivery. (add entry level price)

The RAV comes with free normal factory-scheduled maintenance and 24 hour roadside assistance for two years or 25,000 miles. And we should not forget Toyota’s excellent record for reliability and long life.

In short, the RAV scores a bulls-eye on the market it is aimed at – young families with an active life style, looking for cargo space, economy, and long vehicle life and with AWD, the ability to get through some bad weather. That is no small thing these days.







Auto News for Feb. 27

Hyundai Tucson

Yesterday we talked a lot about supercars to be unveiled at the upcoming Geneva show. How about a vehicle that many can afford? The redesigned Hyundai Tucson will make its “World Premiere” at next Tuesday in the Swiss City. It will also be on stage at the New York show in April. Hyundai has released a picture of the European model, but my guess is that it the same looks wise as the U.S. version. The Tucson reportedly got a ground up redesign but is still about the size of the current model, and sports a new interior. The 2016 should go on sale here in the states this summer.

Tucson on the moon

Hyundai also makes a fuel cell version of the Tucson and it now claims owners in Southern California have racked up enough mileage, 238,900, to make it to the moon. There are enough refueling stations in SOCAL to keep these Tucson’s in motion. They have an estimated driving range of 265 miles between refueling.

Honda does more than make cars, as you probably know. But now it has installed the first HondaJet flight simulator at its headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina. It is located at the company’s training center on the campus of Honda Aircraft.

VW announced that work is underway to expand its Chattanooga plant in preparation for production of an all new Midsize SUV. Construction will continue for the next two years. VW will also open a visitor center in the city in the summer of 2016. Hope they have some old Beetles there. I have fond memories of new ’69 with skinny whitewalls that carried a sticker of just under 2K.






Auto News for Feb. 26

The wizards who splice together thousands of wires inside a communication cable have completed their task, and telephone/Internet service has been restored to this office. Talked to a former lineman yesterday who said those zillions of smaller wires “all have to be restored by the numbers” and that takes time. That explains the long outage after a utility pole and related equipment caught fire and fell over in our neighborhood.

There is a lot to get caught up on so let’s start with today’s news first, like a new Audi supercar, Aston Martin Super-Super car, and a new McLaren.

Audi R8

Ahead of its official debut next week at the Geneva show, Audi this morning released a picture of the upcoming R8. Britain’s Car magazine said it will initially be offered only with the 5.2 liter V10 engine with 602 horsepower and a 0-62 time of just 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 205 mph. That, as you may have guessed, gets the R8 into supercar territory. There will be lots of carbon fiber and aluminum to keep the weight down. We will learn more next week.


Speaking (or writing) about fast, Aston Martin is out with a picture of the track only, limited edition 7.0 liter V12 supercar that will grab more than a little attention in Geneva. Aston calls the 800 plus horsepower Vulcan the “brand’s most intense and exhilarating creation to date.” Only two dozen will be produced and they will comply with all relevant FIA race safety requirements. There will be a long list of power and dynamic performance adjustments for customers to consider. As for price, well if you have to ask …


But not be outdone, McLaren will use the Geneva show to display the 675 LT – that does not stand for lettuce and tomato. McLaren said it will be the most track-focused, yet road legal, model in the Super Series. The sprint to 62 mph is accomplished in just 2.9 seconds with a top speed of 205 mph. Power comes from a new 3.8-liter V8 rated at 666 hp @7,100 rpm with 516 lb-ft of torque @5,500 rpm. No word on price. It will be officially introduced on March 3.


On a much lower price scale, a Ford plant outside Toronto has started production of the new Edge, with the addition of 400 new workers. The new edition will be exported to more than 100 countries. It will be the first to feature the twin-scroll 2.0 liter EcoBoost engine with performance exceeding that of the current 2.0 liter offering, Ford said. The Edge will go on sale this spring and it is the first redesign since 2006 when the Edge was first introduced. Early next month, I will have a full report on what it is like to drive.

I do not make this up. A car oriented TV show in Europe has a host named Fuzz Townshend.

Volvo has reported a higher operating profit based on increased sales in China and Europe. But sales for the now Chinese owned car company have not rebounded here in the U.S. The company is hoping for a turn around here with the introduction of the new XC90.

Sources told Automotive News that GM will slow production at a couple of plants due to slow demand for the Chevy Sonic subcompact and the Buick Regal and Verano. Thus far, there has been no comment from GM.

Take your pick of two headlines this morning: “Apple’s Car Faces a Long Road Ahead” or “Apple Could Not Have Picked a Better Time to Get into the Car Business.”

Bluetooth connectivity and voice recognition issues are the most frequently reported problems after three years of ownership, according to a study by J.D. Power. The study said technology is playing an increasingly critical role in owner’s perceptions of overall vehicle reliability. Owners want the latest technology in their vehicles and are not shy about complaining when it doesn’t work, Power said. Among owners with problems, more than half said their vehicles would not recognize their phone while 31 percent said the phone would not automatically connect when entering their vehicle. Overall, Lexus ranked highest in vehicle dependability followed by Buick, Toyota, and Cadillac.

And that brings us to the Consumer Reports annual study of the most reliable brands. For the fourth year in a row, Lexus tops the study followed by Mazda, Toyota, Audi, Subaru, Porsche, Buick, Honda, Kia, and BMW. On the other end of the list were Mini, Jeep and Fiat.

Under Top Picks by Category, the Tesla Model S was named best overall, CR calling it a “technological tour de force.”

The top midsized sedan was the Subaru Legacy while the brand’s Impreza was named top compact car and the Forester the best Small SUV.

Once again, the Toyota Prius was the top Green Car, and the Audi A6 was the Luxury Car of choice.

The top Sports Sedan was the Buick Regal, the Toyota Highlander the best Midsized SUV. When it comes to large cars, the Chevy Impala topped the list but only with a V6 engine and the Honda Odyssey came out on top among minivans.

It was the first time since 1998 that three domestic brands made the Top Picks lineup, the magazine saying that many brands “have come a long way in performance, technology (and) improved reliability.”


Auto News for Feb. 24

A bit later we will get one magazine’s take on the most, and least, dependable cars. Consumer Reports unveils its latest study today so check back here for a complete report.

Bugatti_Veyron in Gerlach_Nevada

Unless you have been asleep the last few years, you know that the Bugatti Veyron is just about the fastest car every created. Now the last one has been sold. Bugatti said it would make only 450 supercars that even gave seasoned auto testers with near heart attacks given its better than 1,000 horsepower engines. The last one was sold to a customer in the Middle East, who was not identified. It was a Grand Sport with 1,200 horsepower and it will go out in style, displayed at the upcoming Geneva auto show. Parent VW said the 450 cars sold for average price of $2.6 million. So will there be another? A top official has been quoted as saying the new Bugatti just might appear in early 2016.

The mid-engine all-wheel drive two-seater packed a quad-turbocharged D16 engine good for 1,200 hp @ 6,400 rpm and 1,106 lb-ft of torque @ just 3,000 rpm. Car & Driver timed it to 60 in just 2.4 seconds with a top speed of 255 mph. Incredible!

The weather may have frightful but February auto sales may have been delightful for many makers. J.D. Power and LMC Automotive predict February sales will hit their strongest number since way back in 2002. That would be 1,033,100 units or a nine percent increase compared to a year ago. Others believe the record breaking weather may have kept potential customers at home huddled around their fireplace or stuck behind an over worked snow blower.






Auto News for Feb. 23

Honda announced today that its chief executive will step down in June and be replaced by an engineer who played a key role in the development of the CR-V and Odyssey. CEO Takanobu Ito presided over the company during the Takata airbag recall and recalls of the subcompact Fit. If the Honda board approves the move, the top spot will be taken over by Managing Officer Takahiro Hachigo in a move that surprised many auto analysts. Honda has recalled more than 14 million vehicles with the Takata airbags.

The man who introduced the Z car to these shores – Yutaka Katayama – has died of heart failure at age 105. He is a former president of Nissan’s sales and marketing business here in the U.S. and was remembered as “Mr. K” in TV ads in the 60’s and 70’s.

Interior_02Mercedes-Maybach Pullman


There is first class and then there is the Mercedes-Maybach Pullman limo that will have its world debut at the Geneva extravaganza. Just one look at the interior proves that this is a lot more than an old Checker cab. Just over 21 feet long with a “Club Lounge” in the rear four passengers can sit facing each other in the “compartment” with an electrically-operated partition window. The top-of-the-line S 600 features a V12 biturbo engine rated at 523 horsepower with 612 lb-ft of torque, or more than enough to leave pesky reporters and photographers in its dust. There will be lots of leather trim, even in the head liner, and three analog instruments in the roof liner for outside temperature, speed and time. Two high end Burmester sound systems are offered among a long list of custom options. Prices will start at $566,922 and the first customers will be able to take delivery in early 2016. Of course, older readers will remember when the Pullman name was synonymous with first class train service back in the day.


Saturday Road Test 2015.5 Volvo XC60 T6

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Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

Safety First

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD – Volvo has a rock solid reputation in this country with many fans starting out in the 544 that sort of looked like an old Ford and the 144 that was a hit in the U.S. market from 1966-74.

Moving forward, Volvo was sold by Ford in 2010 to the Beijing based automaker Geely, officially Zhejiang Geely Holding Group of China. Volvo is still based in Gothenburg, Sweden and continues to produce a line of safety based cars with a company goal that one day no one will die in an auto accident if they are in Volvo.

This weekend’s test car is the midsized XC60 T6 model with all-wheel drive and a spritely 3.0-liter six under the hood. To more than meet the performance expectations of Volvo fans, it features a twin scroll turbo all good for 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque matched to an excellent six speed automatic with paddle shifts.

Quiet and refined, the six packed more than enough clout for interstate merging and rural road passing and a zero to 60 run in the six second range.

Gas mileage is EPA rated at 17-24 for a combined 20 mpg. Models that are front wheel drive can be had with a juiced up four that will deliver improved mileage figures and most followers expect those engines to make their way into the AWD models as well.

During the test week, the Volvo got a taste of its homeland weather, as least that of northern Sweden, when our temperature fell into the single digits overnight and wind chill readings were well below zero, all rather unusual for this part of the world. The VC60 fired right up every morning, but on an automatic setting, the heater was slow to warm the interior. Give the fan motor its head and the interior was toasty warm in short order.


Handling was better than one might expect but the tradeoff was a suspension system that was on the stiff side with some bumps reverberating through the interior.

The VC60 received a Top Safety Pick+ rating, the top of the line from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Of course there was a long list of safety features in the vehicle such as blind sport detection, cross traffic alert, lane change warnings, front and rear park assist, adaptive cruise control, collision warning with full automatic brake, distance alert, and pedestrian/cycle detection with automatic brake, a pretty darn good idea for these parts at least, where few people look before crossing the road and there are too many nutty bike riders in summer.

The active dual Xenon headlamps with washers were some of the best I have seen in any car, illuminating the surroundings perfectly at night with a sharp cut off to keep from blinding on coming drivers. On high beam, it gave you a more than better chance of avoiding animals that might be crossing the road.

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On the other side of the lights, the two-shade “Sport” front seats were quite comfortable and easily adjustable on long day drives with one exception. The lumbar adjustment was not powered, but rather consisted of a rickety wheel located inconveniently on the side of the driver’s seat back. This did not make for easy adjustment while driving and one should expect a car in this price range to have power lumbar adjustments.

Key gauges are an easy read, generally white on black on a TFT (Thin-Film Transistor) display. Much of the interior has a rather austere look with some less-than-luxury-car touches when it came to the sun visors and interior roof covering. To the rear, knee and leg room were on the short side.

As for storage space, with the second row seats up you get 30 cubic feet of space and 67 with them down, more than enough to meet the needs of the typical owner.

The test car had an optional $800 dog cage that ate up half of the available storage space when the rear seats were up. That left space for about seven plastic grocery bags without raising the cage lid. The metal bars also hampered rear visibility and to the right rear. Look through the rear view mirror and you get an idea of what it might be like to drive a paddy wagon. On the plus side was a 12 volt power outlet in the cargo area.

The XC was quiet on the highway but there was some wind noise at interstate speeds.

If early on you go looking for the owner’s manual, it’s not in the glove box, but rather housed in the 7.5 inch color screen. Instead of quickly indexing get acquainted bits of information in a printed manual, one must weed through menus and guess where that information might be hidden. You get the hang of it eventually, but really, the printed word is quicker and easier.

I loved the power liftgate, beefy heated steering wheel, and in the summer am sure the large panoramic sunroof with power sunshade would be a winner. The Harmon Kardon premium sound system that comes with the Platinum package was an absolute winner, one of the best auto sound systems I have heard.

Volvo is big on “Sensus Connect” a system that is now standard with the mid-year update. It is basically a connected car and infotainment platform with access to the Internet and apps including Pandora, Yelp and Glympse. The On Call app brings vehicle status, remote lock, unlock and start, and car locator, but it won’t yet tie your shoes.

There is also 24/7 call center support with in car roadside assistance and service scheduling. You can try out the system at a dealer and that might be a good idea given the complexity of setting it all up. That requires the acquisition of an ID and PIN number with operation via center console mounted numbered buttons and a control knob to the right.

With a $4,400 Premium Package that brings with it a lot of the safety equipment mentioned above, plus a $1,550 Climate package with child booster seats, $500 for the sport seats, $1,000 for the alloy wheels, and some miscellaneous other options the bottom line came to $52,225 including $925 for delivery.

With stiff competition from Audi, BMW and Lexus the challenge for now Chinese owned Volvo is to find a lucrative niche in the very competitive U.S. market.

An inroad for them might be the completely redesigned and recently introduced XC90, the next rung up the ladder from the test car. It is high on luxury, power and safety and is the first all new Volvo since its acquisition by Geely.


Auto News for Feb. 20


Ever want to own a 627 horsepower Mustang GT with Richard Petty’s signature on the dashboard? That might be an interesting item if the owner is ever pulled over for speeding. At any rate, Ford and Petty’s Garage have teamed up to build a limited edition GT with a Ford Racing/Roush supercharger. AC/DC’s Brian Johnson has ordered the first one. The car will be built in two stages with the Stage 1 version limited to 100 units, and the second will total just 43 units. The Stage 2 units will offer an upgraded suspension and brakes, special paint and exclusive three piece forged aluminum wheels. The Petty’s Garage Stage 1 will carry an MSRP of $62,210 with the Stage 2 coming in at a rather pricey $92,210. It is one mean looking Mustang.

Infiniti QX30 Concept

The first real look at the QX30 concept has been released by Infinity ahead of the vehicle’s world premiere at the Geneva show. Its maker said the concept “hints at a future premium compact vehicle …” We should lean more on March 3.

A 2006 Cadillac DTS with just 20,000 miles on the clock has been auctioned off for $122,500 with the proceeds going to an Omaha charity. If you think that is a lot of money for a nine model year old Caddy, you also have to know who its prior owner is – Warren Buffett.

Bloomberg reports that Apple hopes start production of its electric car in 2020. Various reports say Apple has hundreds of people working on the project.